Following a nearly four-decades-long career in the wood flooring industry, Janet Sullivan retired from Lenmar in 2023. Lenmar, a wood finishes company, has undergone several buyouts – most recently going from the Benjamin Moore umbrella to Gemini Coatings’ profile of brands. Sullivan remained a consistent presence with Lenmar throughout those changes.
Over the years, Sullivan was involved heavily with the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). She loyally attended the NWFA Wood Flooring Expo, participated in numerous schools, served on the board of directors and various committees, and even earned the Vanguard and Master Craftsman degrees. Here, she looks back on her career and shares advice with others in the industry.
How did you get started in the wood flooring industry? I started at Lenmar in March of 1984, in the accounting department. They asked if I was interested in learning the sales side of things. Unfortunately, two months into it, the man training me passed away, so I had to get into it very quickly and leaned on my distributors to gain a lot of information.
What are some of the biggest changes in wood flooring finishes over the years? The funny thing is in wood flooring finishes, there haven’t been a lot of changes. There have been a lot of VOC changes in terms of what you can sell, where you can sell it, and the size you can sell. On the water-based side, there have been a lot of changes with one component or two component and a lot of different manufacturers getting into the finish side of the business.
From when you first joined the industry to now, what has it been like seeing the number of women in the industry grow? It’s very exciting to see more females in the industry and, I have to say, the acceptance of women in the industry. When I started, one thing I used to laugh about was that I never had to wait in line to go to the bathroom at any wood flooring event.
Is there a piece of advice you would offer to wood flooring professionals that you wish you had known early in your career? Surround yourself with your peers and learn from them. I didn’t come from a wood flooring background with my family or anything. I even went back to school for chemistry so that I could understand the workings of it. I used to have lunch with the chemist to learn how they develop a product. Educate and surround yourself with peers.
What will you miss about working in the wood flooring industry? My customers, the friends I’ve made, and Expo. To me, that was a family reunion. There were only about 300 people at the first convention I went to. You got to know the core people really well, and I made friendships with them pretty quickly.
What are you looking forward to doing in retirement? My husband and I own an RV, so we aim to hit all of the lower 48 states, spending the night in every state. And just to do more travel. We always say you have to have time, money, and health. Time and money are okay, but health, you never know how much longer you will have that, so we are traveling. When we come home, we love to be with our family and friends and host many events at our house. So, I’ll just be enjoying life.